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While it may appear that children's stories are there for entertainment, they are actually a vital catalyst for children to acquire skills in reading, writing and language development. There are many theories on how children acquire language; however I feel that the most important step in language acquisition is the importance of reading.
There have been numerous studies conducted into the effect of reading with children from an early age. The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child conducted a study into the effects of preschool reading on children's development of language and cognitive skill, discovering that 'young children exposed to lots of early reading began talking more and showing an interest in books that provoked further shared reading with the parent and, in turn, the momentum for additional cognitive and vocabulary growth' demonstrating the importance of early reading to a child's language skills----following on to school and after.
In addition, Skinners imitation theory proposes that children acquire their language by imitating the words they hear from those around them. By regularly reading stories with your child, you give them a wider selection of vocabulary to listen to, and therefore incorporate into their own language. Skinner also suggests that children learn through reinforcement, so whether your child is at the stage of simply pointing out pictures, or reading the words for themselves, giving them positive feedback will encourage them to be more involved in reading, and by doing so improving their language use.
The grammar used in children's stories is another factor that can affect their language development. For instance, the types of sentences used, whether ending in an exclamation or a question mark, create emphasis to make characters more animated, generating more expression when reading the story aloud increasing the child's excitement. Children pick up changes in tone and pitch, which impacts on the way your child might speak and use expression in their own language. In addition, the use of rhythmical language is used to a similar effect. Using expression and emphasis make the characters in the story come to life, making language prosodic and interesting to listen to. This will be more stimulating for the child and therefore encouraging them to want to read more, aiding them in their language acquisition and the quality of their reading.
However, many parents have ever increasing busy schedules, and this can make it difficult to fit in frequent reading sessions with their children. With the developments in technology and the growing number of educational TV programmes and children's entertainment channels available, it's all too easy for parents to sit their child in front of the television instead of reading a book with them. However, studies suggests that this can be detrimental to a child's acquisition of language, as watching somebody on screen does not have the same effect as communicating with a parent. Dr. Vic Strasburger says that "babies require face-to-face interaction to learn, they don't get that interaction from watching TV or videos. In fact, the watching probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development." So, even finding 10 minutes each day to read with your child will help to improve their reading and language skills significantly.
Many children like to read the same books repetitively, as it gives them a sense of comfort and familiarity. Books with a similar discourse structure or layout to the plot with a beginning, middle and end will get them asking 'What happens next?', 'How will it end?' this type of questioning and talking with children about the books they read can improve the quality of their spoken language, and rate of language acquisition. It will help to give them a sense of chronology within their language, whether telling stories out loud or when writing, and will better their recount and conversational language skills.
A common recurrence across children's stories is the use of politeness markers, for example you will find the characters often saying 'please' and 'thank you'. This is bound to have an influence on the language used by children in everyday life, most parents try to instil basic manners into their children from very early ages, so by parents continually reading literature to their children; it will have an influence on their attitudes/behaviour.
Often children's books employ humour as a technique to engage its readers, whether this is shown through funny images and cartoons or comical plots and characters. This makes a highly entertaining read for a child, inspiring them to want to read more, and the more practice your child has with reading, the greater their language skills will develop.
The images in books can also aid language acquisition, which are also helpful for reading to very young children as they help to improve their familiarity of images and objects- if a child is unsure of the meaning of a particular word, then cues from the images may help to consolidate their knowledge and understanding and so encouraging them to use the words in their vocabulary.